A feminist response to That Speech by Julia Gillard

by 99, editor of Turn Left

Just about every Australian who is a regular use of social media has probably seen That Speech by the Prime Minister. A week later, people I know are still talking about it.

When Julia Gillard called out the Opposition leader for his sexism and misogyny – it changed everything. Almost everything, mainstream media dismissed it, and carried on with their tired old narrative that everything in this country is wrong, and can only be fixed by a change of government. (Well, let’s face it, that was the solution in 2007).

That Speech was a hit of social media. Watching the speech live and following the tweets, even as it was happening we knew we were seeing history being made. Gough Whitlam’s speech to the crowd on the day of the Dismissal, Paul Keating’s ‘Redfern Speech’ and speech for the Unknown Soldier. And now the Julia Gillard Misogyny speech.

The silence the following day, and days after, in our newspapers and on our televisions highlighted the huge gulf between old and new media.

For those of who watched the speech live, we knew how we felt as those words were spoken. We were discussing it and dissecting it as it was happening. And yet, the next day the political opinion writers of old media were trying to tell us we got the context wrong, we had missed the point, it was bad for feminism, it was… who knows.

The fact was, it was old media which had missed the point. They were trying to tell us that our lived experiences of watching the speech was wrong, our reactions were wrong, our feelings were wrong, our emotions were wrong, and that the experiences, reactions, emotions, feelings of those we talked to about That Speech were also wrong.

It was that moment that sealed the coffin on old media. The fact that they were trying so hard to convince us that what we knew was “wrong” was proof of Old Medias irrelevancy.

Like the Churches who said the Bible had to be in Latin, a language the population didn’t speak, in order for the priests to be the official interpreters of the Word of their God.

The Canberra press gallery are acting like old-time priests. They act like they are the only ones who can interpret correctly what was said in Parliament House. And like the Churches who lost power when the Bibles were printed in English and the people could read for themselves what the Word was, now people are getting their news direct from the source and the Press Gallery is surplus to requirements.

However, what is happening in Parliament House is just a small part of modern politics. Politics in this country is more than just politicians, it is in the home, the workplaces, the clubs, the social networks, it is the relationships between people.

Seventies feminists said ‘the personal is political‘, however, modern academics tells us ‘who cares what you think or feel, all that matters is that you can cite dead-white-European-males as a source‘.

During the battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in 2008 for the Democrat nomination, famous lefties denigrated Clinton on the basis of her gender – from Michael Moore calling Clinton a ‘bitch’ to Randi Rhodes using the ‘fucking whore’ slur. These are people who should have been on the same side.

Gender is both the reason for the personal attacks and the reason these powerful women are told they have no right to defend themselves.

They – whether the women of the Liberal party or the talking heads of MSM – tell us that Julia Gillard somehow betrayed feminism for speaking out.

Feminists fought for decades, even centuries, for the right to be treated as humans. Here was one, speaking up against abuse in the workplace and we are told that She should have kept her mouth shut.

‘They’ said the Prime Minister was wrong for playing the gender card, but the basis for personal attacks and death fantasies from Alan Jones, Tony Abbott, Graham Morris is the gender of the Prime Minister.

These men abuse and bully women, then continue the bullying and abuse because their victims speak out.

The pushback is so strong because the people who oppose a female Prime Minister or an ALP government because they know That Speech has had an impact. If the speech was meaningless there would be no need to keep telling people just how meaningless it is.

No matter how conservatives try to reframe That Speech as being insignificant we, who watched it, know otherwise. Only a weak man resorts to bullying and abuse against women when his intellect and policies (both lacking in the Opposition Leader) fail.

Now the story we are being told that is was not a moment for feminists to celebrate.

John Pilger wrote “Julia Gillard is no feminist hero” in The Guardian … Yeah, because nothing screams an understanding of contemporary Australian feminism like an old white male who abandoned Australia sometime in the previous century. Quite frankly, Mr Pilger, no one cares what you think. You are irrelevant to this debate.

To drag that speech out of Parliament and put it next to asylum seekers, single mothers on Newstart allowance, Gillard’s ‘no’ vote on marriage equality, jokes at CFMEU dinners and say those things cancels out the message of that speech. Put That Speech in with a whole list of other things doesn’t put it in context, it removes it from its context.

‘They’ say but look at all these other things first – therefore Julia is not perfect, and her speech is bad for feminism – but here’s the thing about feminism (at least my feminism) – it’s not about finding a feminist role model and then worshipping that person.

Apart from the fact that it tends to be the usual suspects – old white right-wing men – bitching about Julia Gillard’s speech, they fail to grasp what feminism is.

If someone is expected to be perfect, then they stop being human and become gods, and feminism is not a cult, worshipping Julia Gillard. Feminism is not about a set of rules where everybody has to all believe exactly the same things at the same time.

However, back to That Speech – Julia Gillard doesn’t have to be perfect for That Speech to have impact in the lives of women and girls in this country.

If a woman has to be perfect in order to be a feminist role model, then that would make her a not very good role model, no one is perfect, and since no one can be perfect, perfect people make bad role models.

After years of implied death threats and vile sexist abuse, Julia Gillard named it for what it was, sexism and misogyny. Incidents were no longer being dismissed with “boys will be boys”. Instead of convincing the entire country to live in some kind of silence about the abuse directed to the Prime Minister, which amounts to little more than “blaming the victim”.

We would not sit back and avert our eyes if this ongoing abuse was against any woman in a domestic situation, so why do we allow it in parliament?

This is what matters. Feminism is about choosing those things that making your life better, it is about not putting up with second class treatment based on gender, it is not accepting less than being treated like a human being, what it is not is following a strict set of doctrine.

If the only thing women and girls get from That Julia Speech is ‘name and shame’ people who use sexism – then that can’t be bad for women. But for those watching, it was more than just naming abusers, it was also naming the abuse for what it was, and not hiding in shame.

Our silence is consent, It’s time to say enough is enough.

The shame is not the Prime Ministers because these things are done to her, the shame belongs to those on the Opposition benches who engage in daily sexism and abuse.

This is good for everyone, except those who are invested in and benefit from keeping women down. And, in the end, the Old Media couldn’t care less about the context of the speech, they only care about bringing down a democratically elected government.

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21 Responses to “A feminist response to That Speech by Julia Gillard”

  1. Yes, it applies to a host of issues, ignore evidence, fear monger, repeat. Repeat. It’s almost a form of conservative brainwashing, done here, don in other places, USA is another example. I’ve always thought Alan Jones the Rush Limbaugh of Australia. Sick to death of the wingnuts.

  2. What an excellent essay post PM Gillard’s speech. Would it be okay if I reblogged this? Thankyou so much for powerfully, precisely articulating what many of us have carried in our hearts and minds for so long.

  3. Thank you for your comments. They are everything I have wanted to say for several years. The Julia Gillard abuse has always been both about her gender and also that she represents the party that was not “born to rule” and so is denying T Abbott his birthright. I am 59 years old and dont think I have ever seen a more orchestrated and vicious campaign against a person holding political office. What is most frightening is that the media and the media owners and stake holders have not been bought to account in any way. I guess this is what can happen in a country with a small population, the big fish are in a small pond.Does this mean that people who casually state ” Oh Julia Gillard, I hate her, she is wrecking the country and doesn,t have a clue what she is doing” also not support penalty rates for workers, not support the unions when they insist on safety before profit, not support awards covering wages.? I think not. So these people believe media reports that Julia Gillards Government is broken but if asked to give up the rights and conditions that this government supports they would be screaming. During my education class distinction was considered taboo, we were taught that it was an insulting old fashioned idea that was no longer relevant in any way to the society that we had become, that it was a system designed to maintain the status quo for the more affluent and privileged. Education opportunities became avaliable to people of all incomes (thanks to Labor) and nobody I knew cared about labelling people, we were too busy working and taking opportunities and it seemed that most people had a “live and let live”attitude. Yet the media of the last decade at least, seems obsessed with labelling, aspirational, lower middle class and leafy suburb spring to mind. These terms are divisive and seem to be used to say that there are two ways of living; safe, middle class in the right suburb with the right opinions or unsafe, lower class in the wrong suburb with the wrong opinions. Since when did having a different opinion become such a big problem and why are we being labelled and divided? Perhaps the staff at the universities who teach journalism have something to answer for, maybe the whole ethic of journalism has changed whilst we have been busy living a life. Who knows but the media of this country have a smell about them.

    • Thank you for this comment.

      The media, the politicians focus on the little things, because they don’t have big things to worry about. If our economy really was ‘like Greece’ they wouldn’t worry about the PMs jackets or what jokes a comedian made.

  4. Critics of The Speech do not directly address the points Julia made. In doing so, it ignores and dilutes the very strong message that has struck a chord for so many. It therefore, attempts to place those who applaud the speech, back into their place. I don’t think Pilger will be happy until all women are wearing camo and military boots. We women who feel the slings and arrows back here at the homefront from Old Media past their prime, also do not appreciate out of touch, armchair critics like Pilger and Greer firing off salvos from some far away bunker. They really should know Julia Gillard is the best weapon against conservatism they so often rail against, they’re ever going to get. Julia Gillard has named and shamed it. It’s a tipping point, and the misogynist cat is well out of the bag. From now on, we too can name it and shame it.

  5. Pilger does have a point. The government is doing the dirty on single parents. This is largley responsible for the appalling state of poverty many unemployed people live in. However I think Pilger was overreaching to say Labor is ‘bereft of principle’ because of this.

    • Thanks for this comment. Pilger may or may not have had a point in his article, although that was also not the objective of the post. Not everything can be addressed in one post. It is also not zero-sum, one thing doesn’t cancel everything else out. This is what the MSM is trying to tell us.

  6. There’s no shortage of examples of social media going overboard, over-reacting, and statements being made by people who do not have the big picture, know what they are talking about, or understand the implications of their statement. Give people the chance and they’ll react emotionally without proper consideration. Social media is a forum to facilitate this. So “old media” could just be making this point rather than saying “everyone is wrong.”

  7. Apparently the comment about John Pilger can be taken as an example of “sexism” – just because someone is an old-white-male and left Australia before the War – does not mean their opinion on what feminism means for contemporary Australian women is irrelevant. Pilgers article point out Gillard’s hypocrisy. If she isn’t satisfying 100% of Leftist and Women 100% of the time, then she is betraying feminism: says the old white man who wants to define what feminism is.

  8. You are 100% spot on with your article. What else can we expect from the Main Stream Maggots, those tired and out of touch fossils. You are correct in that they just want to bring down a democratically elected government who are achieving so much for all Australians. The Main Stream Maggots must just drool at the thought of the more than one and a half million hits that Julia Gillard’s speech has so far achieved. It really shows just how so out of touch the Main Stream Maggots are. Julia Gillard worries these fossils so much because she just keeps moving forward and leaves them in her wake. Power to her.

    • Sometimes I think if Julia Gillard said “Abbott should be PM” the MSM would find a liberal to talk endlessly about how “thats a good policy, we just dont trust the ALP with it” and another to tell us twenty times about how wrong Julia Gillard is and that we need an election Now! Now! Now!

      The MSM have their agenda and will not let facts get in the way.

  9. Excellent. You flshed out some of the other ideas gthat I’d been thinking about, too. Like the trick that is getting used a lot – denying that the personal is political. eg “You’re saying misogyny is happening everywhere – give me one example” “Well, how about when Mr X did ABC to Mrs Y?” “Well, you’re using one example to make a sweeping statement!” and on it goes. Enough. We don’t have to prove it to ourselves. We know it happens. We just need to stop worrying about being validated by old white males and old white media.

    • Thanks for this comment, but that trick of denying the personal is political is used by conservatives a lot – no matter what you say, they will attack it. They don’t like facts, they just want to make you afraid… You give them facts and stats and they will talk about someone’s electricity bill, you talk about how something affects people individually and they accuse you of ignoring the facts.

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